March 16, 2010

Park's supervision may change


RICHMOND -- The town may become one of the latest municipalities to take control of a state park within its borders.

Richmond and state Department of Conservation officials are discussing the possibility of the town leasing Peacock Beach State Park, at Pleasant Pond, this summer.

The state has had agreements with other municipalities for years giving them more control over parks while saving the state the cost of staffing.

"We've done it before when it's advantageous for both sides," said Jeanne Curran, a public information representative for the state Department of Conservation. "It saves us some money, and for the town it gives them local control and meets their recreational needs."

Other parks owned by the state but leased and operated by municipalities include Woodbury Pond Park in Litchfield; Nickerson Lake in the Houlton area; Scarborough Beach; and Lake George Regional Park in Canaan and Skowhegan.

The state purchased the land for the Lake George Regional Park before 1997 and leased it to the operators of the park, which straddles the Skowhegan-Canaan town line. The park is leased to both towns and run by the nonprofit Lake George Corp. The park, which operates on donations, fundraisers and gate fees, also is helped by extensive volunteer and internship programs and grants.

Richmond Selectman Rose Beckwith, who has been speaking with state officials about Richmond taking over Peacock Beach State Park, said earlier this month the state budget does not include funds to fully open Peacock Beach State Park.

She noted, however, that the state budget has not been approved and funding could change. Beckwith said the town could probably lease the park from the state for about $1,000 a year.

Sen. Seth Goodall, who also serves as chairman of the Richmond selectmen, said the state pays an average of $23,000 a year to operate Peacock Beach. He suggested the town could run it more cost-effectively because the state's costs include employee benefits, while the town could staff the park with part-time summer employees who don't generally receive benefits.

The park gate is generally not staffed. Admission to the park is collected via an "iron ranger," a metal box with a slot in it, into which park users are expected to pay $3 admission per adult a day, according to the state Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Beckwith said she's heard that as few as 10 percent of park users actually pay the daily fee.

She believes revenues at the park could be increased with a worker collecting fees at the gate.

"I crunched some figures and having someone there five days a week, eight hours a day, with the cost offset by revenues, boils down to the cost to the town being, probably, about $1,000 in the town taking that lease over," Beckwith said.

Beckwith noted the town is already paying the state about $1,200 a year in fees for children in the town's summer-recreation program to use the beach. Beckwith said if the state doesn't open the park, and the town doesn't take it over, the summer recreation program may still be able to use the park by making special arrangements with the state.

Richmond selectmen recently voted unanimously to wait until more information is available about state funding for the park.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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